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How To Legally Use Music On Social Media

Are you violating intellectual property laws?

Disclaimer: This blog is for educational use only and simply reflect me experiences. Please note that laws and social media regulations are constantly changing. Check the terms of each platform if you are ever unsure about the rules or music restrictions (updated September 25th). 

I Recently Created a TikTok Account

Weeks later – I am still awake! Ok, I'm only kidding… kind of. Let’s face it, every person and their mother is on TikTok now, and it is SO addictive. Video after video, you can’t help but want to learn the dances or compare the various renditions. What a complete waste of time, yet so brilliant!

If you are judging me right now, I dare you to log on and see what happens. I promise it’s not just for the kids either! Quarantine has left every parent and well-known celebrity no choice but to participate. Even business professionals have turned to it as a reliable source for marketing. It might seem ridiculous when you first think about it. Who goes to TikTok to learn more about businesses and other brands?

Nobody takes social media that seriously – but don’t we?

In fact, a recent study conducted by hootesuite showed that one third of the stories viewed on Instagram belong to businesses. We buy products from ads on social media, get to know entrepreneurs through stories and lives, and we use all the other social media platforms to build our brands. It is the savvy thing to do, and at this point – you are kind of left in the stone ages if you’re not using social media as a business.

So where am I going with this? Do I want to go viral on TikTok and have all of you go follow me on Instagram?

Absolutely – NOT the point of this article!

With the rise of new social media platforms comes another mechanism for millions of individuals to innocently commit some form of intellectual property infringement. You know when you try to work out to Queen BEY and share a video on Instagram but then you get blocked faster than (insert popular sports reference analogy), yeah that’s copyright infringement.

A copyright is the exclusive right to essentially use your own original works in commerce or some form of display. Works typically include:

  • Music
  • Films
  • Books
  • Paintings
  • Photography

This list goes on to include other forms of art and original creations as well. So if you write a book, I can't quote you and take credit for that quote. Or if you produced an original song, I can't use it on my website for my business. It can get more complicated, but essentially you cannot simply play music that you love on social media unless a few things happen.

You Own the Rights

If you own the rights to a song then not only can you play the song anywhere and everywhere, you can also stop everybody else from doing the same. Ownership comes first from authorship. This means you created or co-created the song and therefore are a rightful copyright owner.

By creating a work you are automatically the copyright owner. You can boost these ownership rights by actually registering your copyright with your country's copyright agency. In the Unites States, this can be done with the U.S. Copyright Office for under $40. You can always contact an attorney if you need assistance as well.

OMI Legal handles both copyright and trademark matters for creatives, entrepreneurs and the social media brand builders.

You can also obtain certain rights by paying a licensing fee to the original copyright owner. Transfer of rights can happen in a few different ways but is essentially the only way you can claim you have real permission to use the artist’s work. This brings me to my next point.

You Have Permission


A license is essentially permission. A licensor (rights holder) grants a licensee the rights to use their work. The reason you can play all of those fun and annoyingly catchy tracks on TikTok is because TikTok has a licensing deal with Merlin in order to rightfully share those songs.

Merlin has deals with Facebook (which includes Instagram), Spotify, Google Play and More!

So what does this mean? Well, to play it safe use music already popular and hopefully protected on TikTok. If you plan on uploading new music, make sure it is either your original work or work you have permission to use.

Fair Use

Remember the last time you some how found a loophole to a conflict you were in? Well that's sort of what fair use is for copyright infringement. Fair Use is a legal doctrine that was created to provide a limited list of circumstances that would excuse intellectual property infringement.

Examples include using a piece of art to educate students in school or making fun of something in a parody. Although this doctrine is a great "work around", it is difficult to accomplish with music on social media. Instagram actually allows you to use copyrighted music in your post if you are indeed complying with the fair use doctrine. But in my opinion - it might be more work than it is worth!

Instagram states it as well:

Under Instagram’s Terms of Use and Community Guidelines, you can only post content to Instagram if it doesn’t violate the intellectual property rights of another party. The best way to help make sure that the content you post to Instagram doesn’t violate copyright law is to only post content that you’ve created yourself.

Third Party Apps

You might still be worried about other forms of content you've created for social media. What about the free music you can access with apps such as Inshot?

Well I did a little research, and I say little because the Terms and Privacy sections are VERY short. Not something you see everyday. But what I found was the following statement from their website. Oddly enough the privacy section is actually under the terms and vice versa. There is also more than one typo (which I HAD to correct)... Maybe I should let them know? What do you think?

Anyway, this is what it says:

InShot Featured Music is not allowed to broadcast in TV and radio for commercial purpose, or sold separately. InShot Inc. reserves the right of final interpretation for the Music and contents hereinabove.

It goes on to state that InShot content is protected under all Intellectual Property laws. If you've ever used the app you have likely seen the request to credit the artist if you choose to use their free music. My guess is that the artists have shared this music with InShot, like the license agreements I mentioned earlier, in order to gain exposure for their music. Because we do not pay for this music there is no real profit other than social media exposure. Please note that giving credit does not free you of liability but you should definitely try and do it anyway!

I think it's time for you to go make your next social media marketing video now and maybe even add some fun music. Videos are a great way to connect with your followers, gain more visibility, and make content creation fun. But while you are doing so, always remember to consider someone else's intellectual property rights. They won't care that you only wanted to share 15 seconds of their song to promote your yoga class. Better safe than sorry!